I know that’s been said countless times over the years by people other than myself, but family has been on my mind a lot lately and I feel the need to say it as well: family isn’t always blood related.
As I’ve eluded to in the past, family is complicated in my world. My “blood related” family has always had a difficult dynamic – one I’ve decided not to try to figure out. The endless drama was tiring; trying to remember who was angry at who and why was not a game I was interested in playing. I wanted something different. Something simple.
Family is always supposed to be there for you, right? Family is the people you are there cheering you on and also the ones who hold you when you cry, right? Family is who you’re born into, the ones who will raise you but protect you, right?
My dad was my family. My mom and I have had our fair share of differences but I kept trying, per my dad’s request. One brother I made the conscious decision to distance myself from. The other two brothers and I have had our differences throughout the years, but we always find our way back to each other, and for that, I will forever be grateful. My grandparents (my dad’s parents) died when I was young, so I don’t have many memories of them, however, I keep their pictures near. My mom’s parents are more difficult (and yes, people have pointed out that I don’t call them my grandparents, it’s hard to call someone a grandparent when you don’t have many good memories of them) – there was always so much drama on that side of the “family” that I couldn’t keep up.
As for the rest of my relatives, I don’t know much about them – we never really met when I was a child, and although I know they’re out there, figuring out how to approach them is difficult. Do you just chat them up on Facebook like “hey, I know you don’t know me but we’re related, maybe we could hang out sometime?” Anything is possible I suppose, but I’m not sure I want to open that can of worms again. The last time I decided to open it was right after my dad’s death – I wanted to search out my family. I reconnected with an aunt. We decided to have lunch. During that lunch I learned a few important things:
- Why I had not had contact with my cousins in over a decade – for the record, it seemed to be because of a fight my parents had with them. They decided not to mend fences. I lost my cousins.
- My aunt was sorry that so much time had passed.
- She wanted to know why my dad had defended my mom when my mom was clearly wrong. For the record, my dad was my mom’s husband, and to him, that’s what husbands did – stand by their wives.
I left the conversation flusterated. I wanted to find my family. I didn’t want to dig up the past.
While all of this was going on, I was still trying to come to terms with my dad’s death. I was also about to make a huge mistake and through this mistake, I would begin to learn how different variations of “family” would react.
I’m not going to go into the specifics of what I did, that is a story for another time.
When I told my mom, I was angry with her. I wanted her to shut up and telling her was the fastest way to accomplish just that. Her reaction was to scream and yell and ask how I could be so stupid.
When I told Allison, she sat down before me as tears fell from my eyes; I was completely heartbroken and it was ripping my soul apart. She asked me if I was okay. She asked me if there was anything that she could do to help. She held me while I cried. She told me that no matter what happened, I would be okay and that she would be there for me.
Thankfully, everything worked out well. However, I could not shack the difference in reaction. My mom wasn’t there when I needed her most, and while I understood she was still dealing with my dad’s death, I needed her in that moment. Allison had the reaction that I longed for my mother to have – she was supportive and comforting.
I ended up moving in with Allison’s family about seven months later. I was trying to make positive changes in my life. First I started going to therapy. Then Allison offered to let me move in with her family – they were scared I wouldn’t finished school and were worried about me. Over the next ten months I got to witness something I hadn’t seen before – family interacting like family.
It was vastly different from the family I grew up with. There wasn’t yelling or drama. When Allison and her husband had a disagreement, I noticed how they took it to another room, not raising their voices to each other in front of their children. I admired their relationship – it became my first glance at how “normal” families interacted.
I know that might sound strange, but it’s true. It’s difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t walked in my shoes. But I remember longing to understand how families interacted and behaved and I remember loving that I would finally get to see it.
However, I would gain something more than just an understanding of how families interact. I gained family. Today, almost eight years since I first met Allison, I consider her family to be my family. Her kids call me “Aunt Chelsea” and I have been around for birthdays and holidays and the births of some of their kids. They have welcomed me into their home and hearts since day one and I am forever grateful. They have seen me at me lowest low and at me highest high and they have never looked at me any differently. Allison knows about my past but she never holds it against me; she doesn’t bring it up or remind me of my past mistakes. Instead, we talk about the present and future plans. She’s become one of my best friends and her family has become the family I always dreamed about.
Family isn’t always blood related. Family is the people who are there with you through everything. They don’t come and go as they please. They make a silent promise to be there with you through everything life throws at you. Then they prove it and never leave you behind.
“Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” – Disney’s Lilo and Stitch
Author’s Note: This is not meant to discredit my brothers or the relationship I’m trying to build with my mother. I understand they are my “blood-family” just as I understand that I have other “blood-family” out there. Families come in all different ways, and this is the family I’m discussing today.